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Obituaries in the News

March 22, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ Margaret Rosezarian Harris, who was the first black woman to conduct the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and 13 other U.S. cities, died March 7 of a heart attack. She was 56.

A piano recitalist, Harris gained the most prominence as a conductor. She also worked on Broadway, notably as music director of the musical ``Hair.″

She also composed music, including an opera called ``King David″ and two piano concertos, the second of which was performed twice with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta.

Born in Chicago, Harris played a public piano recital of 18 short pieces and three encores, all from memory, before her fourth birthday. Soon she was performing in halls as far away as the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

At 10, she performed with the Chicago Symphony, and won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

She went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School. Her graduate work was supported by a grant from the Leopold Schepp Foundation. Harris would later become a trustee of the foundation.

Ivan Hirst

LONDON (AP) _ Ivan Hirst, a British army engineer who was instrumental in putting the Volkswagen into mass production after World War II and getting the carmaker’s famed Beetle to roll off the assembly line, died March 10 in Marsden.

Hirst, then a major in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, was sent to Wolfsburg in 1945 after British forces took control of the Volkswagen factory, which was built to turn Adolf Hitler’s dream of a people’s car into reality.

The outbreak of war stopped production of the first Volkswagen _ known today as the Beetle _ before it began and the factory was turned over to the task of making military vehicles. The factory was heavily bombed by the allies and Hirst was one of a group of officers posted there after Germany’s surrender.

His assignment was to set up a workshop to repair British vehicles, and to dispose of the production line and machine tools. However, no one wanted the equipment.

However, two Beetles were produced by hand, and Hirst sent one to the army for a test. The British army was so impressed that it ordered 20,000, to be built as war reparations. By the end of 1945, the factory turned out 1,785. By the next October, production hit 10,000.

Hirst left Wolfsburg in August 1949, a month before the company was formally handed over to a trust run by the West German government.

He later worked in the Foreign Office’s German section, then joined the secretariat of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, retiring in 1975.

William W. Wells Sr.

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) _ Former Circuit Court Judge William W. Wells Sr., who covered Umatilla and Morrow counties and was the state’s longest-sitting magistrate when he retired, died Sunday. He was 83.

Wells entered private law practice in Pendleton in 1946 and became partners with William C. Perry in 1948. Appointed to the bench in 1952, Wells, then 36, became the youngest man ever to hold a judicial office in the state. When he retired 1984, Wells was recognized as the longest sitting judge within the state.

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